June. The transition month. Gusts of wind invade the still and sweltering sauna heat of May. Little candy tufts of white cloud scurry across deep blue skies increasingly painted over by a dull grey as the days go by. Dry heat gives way to wet warmth. As the winds of change blow in from the south west, the first sprinkling of cool, cool water soaks the ground and wafts in the earthy smell of fresh mud.
Small droves of city pigeons pirouette above in patterns spiralling inwards till they settle back on their rooftop perch. Mynas announce their happiness to the world at large in fluted tweeting rhymes. Myriad varieties of sparrows hop and skip on the tree branches twittering away mindlessly. High up way above where any creature has the right to exist, the eagle meanders in seemingly irrational patterns. But look closely.
The wings spread wide and held firm he glides with the strong upper air currents. A sudden gust of wind and he swoops down like a falling stone, like a bungee jumper he seems to smash into the warm earth below before miraculously straightening up and he is back up into the currents. Now with a little grub dangling from his beak.
The first rains also call up so many members of the hither unseen insect community to attend the annual congregation in the world above. Suddenly the rocks are covered with thin dabs of tomato sauce each flowing down its own path. Thousands of maroon centipedes celebrate their existence scurrying here and there. Prod one with a little twig and he curls up immediately, playing dead. Joining the party soon are the black and silver striped ones who are bold enough to explore the crevices and gaps in the doorways and windows of our house. And of course the earthworm; painted like the flag of an African nation with shades of purple, orange, red and silver it lies in its shallow burrow and grows fatter and fatter day by day.
The year is 1986. I am in my early teens and as usual at the start of another school year. School is just 5 km from home. Putting on my windcheater, I wheel out my Hero cycle from the garage. Feet firmly planted on each pedal, I bulldoze my way up the 45 degree incline in front of home only to sail down the other side and onto the main road. 8 am. The road is smooth and slickly black. The wind and fine spray caressing my face I pedal my way past the Paradise signal and onto the mighty 3 lane x 3 lane Sardar Patel road.
A couple of RTC buses over take me on the right before pulling into the Anand Theater stop. The road is dotted with our national car – the Ambassador, a few Padminis, the new challenger – Maruti 800 and some yellow autorickshaws. At the Police Lines signal we all stop at red, maybe four or five rows of vehicles. I am in the midst of it and keeping to my straight path as is everyone else. Up the steep incline and down past Begumpet airport and I turn off into the school gate at 8.20 am. Not bad for a cycle. It is not much different on the way back and I am soon home by 5 pm after a pulsating game of football on the water logged school ground.
The sky has darkened menacingly and brings down a heavy pelting of rain. Streams of water flow down the sides of the road in front of my house. Small gutters have been burrowed into the earth there and crystal clear streams of water flowing down the slopes of the plots of land beside and behind our house collect into these and flow down towards the main road. Just like the streams flowing down the Western Ghats or Himalayas before forming one of our mighty rivers.
As the rain subsides to a steady drizzle, me and my friends are outside launching little paper boats into the rain water gutter. Like aartis floating on the Ganges at Haridwar these little boats of note paper may drown a quick death if not properly constructed or placed. Some of them are grounded further downstream as they hit a twig or fallen hibiscus or leaf. Both these are then picked out and deposited back into the garbage can in the house. The lucky ones sail all the way to the road each helped along by a running boatman whose job is to clear the path ahead and steer where necessary. These often sailed into the deeper waters on the Picket Main Road before the stream plunged into the cantonments storm water drain and was soon lost to sight forever. A short walk follows to the nearest kirana shop to exchange my weekly Rs.1 allowance for a bar of Rajaram chikki. This chikki is invariably consumed by the time I reach home only to throw the empty wrapper into the garbage can.
Now energised, we begin our forest trek on the steep vacant plot beside the house. The red earth sliding beneath our bare feet, we grasp the shrubs and small trees and make our way up to the top. A thick undergrowth of shrub near the top provides shelter from the rain and also hides us from sight of anyone passing on the road below. After a half hour of spying, we cut across the slippery face of the hill to reach the compound wall of my house. Clambering over the wall we drop into the garden and make our way to the guest bath room to clean ourselves of the fresh red soil clinging onto our feet and shorts.
After a cup of hot milk my friends bid good bye and walk back to their homes. Another exciting June day comes to a close as the lights came on at home.
The steady gurgling of pigeons on the roof greets us as we step outside. A couple of city crows forage in the garbage litter across the road. Mindless of our presence they peck and dig deep into the pile of refuse satiating their gluttony. Plastic bags, plastic tea cups, plastic bottles, paper cartons, cigarette packs, paper plates and plastic spoons with gooey remains sticking to them, shattered glass of beer bottles…… Transparent, translucent, opaque. White, black, multicoloured the plastic is everywhere on the rocks, on the semi wooded slope of the only open plot remaining in this colony.
A sudden gust of wind and a single transparent plastic bag lifts up and glides along with the current before plummeting down into the only tree remaining in front of my living room window. It hangs on the branch inspiring memories of the flowers which once were…. Like the single note of paper that was carried by the swirling winds at the end of the movie “Forrest Gump”, this single plastic bag conveys the understanding, thoughts and actions of this entire generation in its short journey from the refuse pile to the tree. This is the purpose for which God has provided us with wind. Stepping out onto the concrete front of the building I see a mash of red…a tomato sauce bottle shattered with force on the ground. A mass of dead centipedes…crushed by the tyres of the Honda City standing beside. The earthworm – what is that? asks my 4 year old daughter.
The year is 2008. At 35, I feel older than my father. We are going to pick up our daughter from school and take her to the swanky City Centre Mall to entertain her for the evening. Dark clouds gather menacingly overhead. Another gust of wind and in wafts the corrosive perfume of burning plastic accompanied by smoke. We cough instantly and move back inside to shut the windows facing the road.
Thick belches of greyish white smoke fly up the slope from the plot below. Reminiscent of the mist and cloud shooting up at Silent Valley point near Kodai. I look around. All the other houses are closed to the outside world. Windows sealed and giving the blank, dark stare of cooling glasses. The Air Conditioners are humming.
Clad in our Nike joggers, wearing our FILA jackets and an umbrella in hand we walk down the road. A blaring horn and we skip aside to allow a fast moving Toyota Innova to charge up the slope. We take a few steps down before another horn behind us forces us off again. A flame red Ford Fiesta shaking with the fury of dance music pumping from its system zips down the slope and turns off with a screech of tyres. We walk past the blackened face of earth to our right – a stunning canvas painted by the brush strokes of innumerable burnings of refuse. A couple of female construction workers have moved up the slope into the shrubs. Hitching up their skirts they relieve themselves without caution.
We step into our Zen and drive the 3 km to school. 20 minutes. It takes 5 minutes to turn right onto the main road as scores of vehicles speed onward unrelentingly. As an RTC bus stops in the middle of the road to offload passengers there is a temporary lull and I take advantage of it. Picking up my daughter we move towards Paradise signal. It is now pouring buckets of rain. We wait interminably at the signal. Taking 5 red lights to finally make the turn onto the mighty Sardar Patel road. Ragged women with babies tap on our window. As do old men in crutches. Skinny boys with tattered T shirts forcibly clean my windshield in the puring rain. Another three red lights to pass police lines signal. The road is flooded and jammed near my old school. It is a 6 lane road now and the entire width is crammed with countless cars, buses, bikes, autos all jockeying for position. Finally an hour after starting from the school we pull into the basement parking lot of the City centre. As the cool blast of the Air Conditioning hits us we relax. We are in heaven.
After an hour of window shopping in the air conditioned atmosphere, we splurge on a cup of coffee and pastries at the Coffee Shop. My daughter then has a toy train ride and rattles up a couple of video games all for the price of Rs.100 ticket. Then back to the car and the long drive of 10 km home. Just one hour and fifteen minutes as the road is flooded and jammed even more if that were possible. Streams of water are now flowing down the slopes near our house. Instead of paper boats, plastic cups, bags and cigarette cartons float merrily down the stream and are grounded on the banks of the gutter here and there.
We enter our home and towel off before switching on the cable TV to watch the latest release on HBO. Another draining June day comes to a close.
Later that night as I bury myself into the pillows, a photographic album of memories of 1986 extracts itself from the recesses of my mind and offers itself to me. A single drop disengages from the corner of my right eye and rolls down my cheek. As each photo flits past my closed eyes, the rain gathers force and many such drops appear in both eyes. They form streams of water that flow down both cheeks and plunge into the pillow buried under my face soon to be lost from sight for ever much as those rain water streams did in 1986.. ..I cry unashamedly for the life we have all lost and which our children will never see.